Let’s Talk Clovis: John Chambers, Academy Constable

John Chambers, 1862-1929. CONTRIBUTED BY CLOVIS MUSEUM

Michael J. Chappell, great grandson of John Chambers, provided the following information based on family history and Paul Vandor’s 1919 “History of Fresno County.” We are sharing portions of that information. Michael has donated Constable Chambers’ saddle, packing saddle and spurs to the Clovis Museum.

John Thomas Chambers was born in Chambers Prairie, near Olympia, Washington in 1862. He was the son of Thomas Jackson Chambers who crossed the plains from Tennessee in 1845. Thomas was kin to President Andrew Jackson.

John, the youngest of seven children, came to California in 1879 and arrived in Fresno County in 1880. He worked as a teamster hauling freight with a 10-horse team to Pine Ridge. He drove cattle for Walter Shipp from Northern California to the valley.

He married Jane Elizabeth Perry in 1884. Her family traveled with the Fancher Train that crossed the plains by oxen in 1857. The Perry family was related to Commodore Matthew Perry who opened trade with Japan and Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, hero of the battle of Niagara. His famous motto: “Don’t give up the ship.”

The Perry family raised cattle near their home in Centerville. The Perry brand is one of the oldest recorded in Fresno County.

John G. Simpson settled in the Big Dry Creek area in 1852. He married Sarah Baley, of Visalia, in 1856. They would eventually acquire 7,000 acres of land. The name Big Dry Creek was changed to Academy after the Academy School was built in 1872.

Jane Chamber’s sister Eleanor married Thomas Jackson Simpson and her other sister Belle married William Simpson. John G. and Sarah Simpson (parents of Thomas and William) donated land for the 1868 Academy Church, the 1872 Academy School and the Academy Cemetery. The Simpson family continues to worship and provide financial support for the 1868 Academy Church. The 150-year-old church is the oldest continuing church in Fresno County.

William Simpson drowned in Fancher Creek and his widow Belle opened a boarding house in Academy.

John Chambers and his brother-in-law Jack Simpson ran cattle together from the 1880s until the end of their lives. One range was located at Academy and the winter range at Haslett Basin. Their summer headquarter was at Dinkey Meadow.

The area adjacent to Dinkey Meadow is called the Chambers Tract. Several family members still have cabins there.

Chambers was involved in a range war in the early 1890s near Blayney Meadows. However, details of that event were not published in Vandor’s book.

Jack Simpson believed that Chambers was about the toughest man he knew. He was also known to be a “just” lawman during the two years he served as constable at Academy in the early 1900s.

During cattle drives, Chambers would open a sack of flour and put in the wet ingredients for biscuits on top, close the bag, shake it and then pull out the biscuit dough that he would place in a Dutch oven.

The family lived in Sanger from 1890 and moved to Fresno in 1910. They wanted their children (five girls and two boys) to receive a “good” education.

The girls (Eleanor, Nellie, Annie, Belle and Ella) went to college and all became school teachers. Nellie attended San Jose State Normal but returned to Fresno when Fresno State Normal School (1911) was opened. She was the very first graduate of that school.

John, 67, was preparing to gather cattle in the high meadows. He had teeth removed and became ill (sepsis). He died in September of 1929.

These pioneers are part of our rich heritage.